It wasn’t too long ago that I would look at people on social assistance and would call them out in my head (and sometimes anyone within earshot), “get a job! you lazy asshole!“. Yeah seriously, that was my mindset! I would accuse people of abusing the system by mooching off “my” tax dollars. I even went so far as to own a bumper sticker that said “I work hard everyday so that millions on welfare don’t have to“. I was very ignorant to what was really going on in our society and instead of helping the problem, I was the problem. I was hellbent on moving forward that I had forgotten that I didn’t get to where I am today alone. I had a community of people who in one way or another pushed and helped me. I was one of the lucky ones.
My ignorance towards my fellow citizens stemmed from my inability to trust. I could not trust anyone enough that if I gave them my help, they would ask for more. I was afraid that they would begin to expect more from me and rely on me for their needs. I really believed that if gave someone an inch of help, they would expect a mile. I didn’t want that expectation of me. I was selfish. So I resolved to give nothing. Not even respect. I was one of those people.
My mindset changed when I hit my rock bottom. Those days when I was struggling the most with my past and felt as though I had nobody around that could help me. While I wasn’t in need of shelter or food, I was in desperate need of a helping hand in advice, emotional guidance and love. Had my world around told me to “just get over it” or “it’s in the past, forget it and move on” or “just be happy you have a job and a house“… I would be so far down the path to depression that it wouldn’t have been long before I would be starving for food and seeking shelter. This is how the dependence on the system begins. When everyone else gives up on you, you have nowhere to turn. Reliance on the government to feed and shelter you is not a choice, it is a consequence of humanity failing.
A couple of weeks ago while preparing Sunday brunch at The Humanity Project, I had the pleasure of talking to a young man who was clearly under the influence of alcohol. He was clutching a wine bottle in a bag under his arm and he struggled to string a sentence together but I could tell he was very emotional. Unfortunately, I have a low tolerance to drunk people and it stems from my past but on this day I had to bury that. I knew this young man needed something, so I listened to him. Listening to him is all I could give at that time. But what if I didn’t listen to him? What might have happened? I am not sure, but I hope that by lending an ear to him and trying my best to reassure him, I made some kind of difference in his day. What I am sure about is that if I had done nothing, the spiral in his life would have continued. I just hope that for that brief 15 minute conversation, I paused him enough to slow his spiral.
I am still very much new to helping people without expectation of any sort, but I know firsthand that even the smallest of gestures can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day in another’s life. When enough good days are strung together, it tends to form a habit of positive thought. When that habit is made, confidence begins to rise and with confidence, anyone can begin to peck away at their life challenge. Our ignorance towards our fellow citizen will never fix their problem or our problem with them. Crime, poverty and hopelessness is not resolved by punishment, money or ignorance. It is only solved by guidance, dignity and love.
Love your neighbor.